What’s up with Eric Staal?

Eric Staal might be tied for the team lead in goals (all three of them) but I’m sure many Hurricanes fans would agree that the captain hasn’t quite looked like himself this year. He has been known as one of the game’s elite centers for some time now and I believe that he’ll turn things around, but his start to the year has been pretty rough no matter which way you look at it. He has a scoring chance percentage of 36.5%, which is 9th among forwards on the team. Only Tuomo Ruutu, Anthony Stewart, Zac Dalpe and Brett Sutter have lower ratings. To add salt the the wound, he is also ranked 9th in corsi percentage out of 13 so the underlying numbers aren’t working in his favor right now either.

A lot of a player’s struggles and misfortunes in the early stages of the year are due to small sample sizes but let’s take a look at what exactly has been going wrong for Eric Staal this year.

Staal has always been a terrific possession player and is capable of carrying a line on his own, but that hasn’t been the case this year. Staal’s linemates have been a revolving door all season and he has struggled to find chemistry with any of them.

Out of the first eight games, Staal has been a part of three different lines, all of which are underwater when it comes to creating scoring chances at even strength. 

Ruutu-Staal-Skinner 4 9 30.7%
LaRose-Staal-Skinner 6 8 42.8%
Ponikarovsky-Staal-Ruutu 7 15 31.8%

CF = Chances for, CA = Chances against, C% = Chance percentage

Brutal. What makes this even worse is that all of these players have been more successful at even strength when playing with someone other than Staal.

Staal WOWY

Player CF w/Staal CA w/Staal SC% CF w/o Staal CA w/o Staal SC%
Jeff Skinner 11 17 39.3% 19 12 61.2%
Chad LaRose 7 8 46.7% 29 13 69.1%
Tuomo Ruutu 12 26 31.6% 7 12 36.8%
Alexei Ponikarovsky 8 16 33.3% 14 15 48.2%

Ruutu’s “improvement” away from Staal is marginal but the other three have seen their numbers jump up a lot. Granted, LaRose is probably due a really small sample size but it’s still intriguing. You could attribute a lot of things that seem off with Staal to a small sample size, actually. It’s only eight games into the season and I have a hard time believing that these numbers will sustain. A slight concern here is that Staal hasn’t been stuck with total scrubs as his wingers. Skinner obviously isn’t, LaRose and Ponikarovsky aren’t first-liners but they have been solid territorially at the very least and while Ruutu is having a terrible season, he is still an effective top-six forward. Just seems a little odd that Staal can’t find chemistry with any of them. I’m going to give this some time before I begin to worry, though. Plus, Staal has been a beast on the powerplay.

Forward PP TOI PP SF/60 PP CF/2 min.
Eric Staal 38.2 64.5 1.36
Alexei Ponikarovsky 20.06 60.6 .697
Jeff Skinner 36.2 59.5 1.43
Jussi Jokinen 37.25 58.2 1.45
Chad LaRose 14.4 55.8 .55
Tuomo Ruutu 22.6 54.7 .619
Brandon Sutter 13.36 52.8 .299

It’s no surprise that all three of Staal’s goals this year are on the powerplay because that’s where everything has been working for him so far. That’s not exactly a good thing, though because the Canes need Staal to get back into gear at even strength if this team is going to go anywhere this year. If anything, his abysmal on-ice save percentage will improve (.824) which will hopefully get everyone away from talking about his -10 rating when there’s a lot of other things they should be talking about instead.